In the News

DOVER, Del. -- When U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., and congressional agriculture leaders met with President Joe Biden and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in May, the first thing the president stressed to the group was the need to pass a new farm bill.

It didn't hurt Biden's point that, according to Boozman, the president mentioned agriculture is the top industry of his home state of Delaware.

Lawmakers are required to pass a multiyear farm bill on a cycle to authorize programs related to nutrition assistance, rural development, conservation and farm insurance among other issues. Boozman, of Rogers, serves a leading role in writing new legislation given his responsibilities as the top Republican on the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee.

Boozman has spent part of the current Congress traveling to different states and listening to agriculture stakeholders about local and regional needs. The tour continued Friday when Boozman traveled to Delaware to join Democratic Sen. Chris Coons in hearing from agriculture leaders.

Similarities between states' agricultural portfolios have become more noticeable, Boozman said. This trend extends to Delaware and Arkansas. Despite the hundreds of miles between the states, a significant portion of each state's agriculture portfolio is chicken and broiler production.

Arkansas' headcount of chickens and other broilers last year was 4.5 times larger than Delaware's numbers, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

"As I travel around the country talking to people of different states, our states are different, but yet they are very much the same," Boozman said during a roundtable at the Delaware Agricultural Museum in Dover. "Really, the things that we produce over there are similar to the things that you produce."

Delaware Agriculture Secretary Michael Scuse described the event as "extremely rare" given Boozman's committee responsibilities.

"To have him here this morning is extremely important for all of us," he said.

Boozman and Coons came into the Senate together in January 2011. Coons, a county executive before arriving on Capitol Hill, said the two quickly bonded as their wives fostered a friendship.

Coons is not a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, but he co-leads the Senate Caucus with Mississippi Republican Roger Wicker. Boozman and fellow Arkansas Republican Tom Cotton are caucus members.

"Literally, one of the first things we ever talked about was how poultry plays a very central role," Coons said about Boozman.

"He knows a thing or two about Tyson, being from northwestern Arkansas," the Delawarean mentioned, referencing the Springdale-based meat company.

Boozman's trip to Delaware marked his 15th outing related to passing a new farm bill to replace the current statute. The senator will spend Monday in Florida to hear from agriculture officials and leaders there.

"You don't get a farm bill unless it is bipartisan, and you don't get a farm bill together unless you take care of everyone," Boozman told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette after the roundtable discussion Friday.

"At the end of the day, we'll have a product that I think is going to be really good. It's not going to be perfect. Everybody's not going to love it, but I think it will be such that everybody will be very proud of it and feel like it's the very best that we can get done."

Congress last passed a farm bill in December 2018 with Republicans controlling both chambers and the White House. Legislators face different challenges in getting a new bill to the White House because of a Democrat-controlled Senate and a Republican-run House struggling to find a strategy for avoiding a government shutdown.

The current farm bill expires Saturday, Sept. 30, the final day of the federal government's current fiscal year. Boozman previously described Jan. 1 as the "drop-dead date" for action.

Boozman acknowledged Friday that it's important Congress "gets it right" on drafting new legislation.

"The stakes are high," he said.

Boozman and Senate Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., met last week to discuss the farm bill. According to Boozman, the Senate team is working on "putting things on paper."

During the roundtable, Coons asked Boozman the likely cost of the next farm bill. The Arkansas senator quietly told his colleague the legislation will likely eclipse $1.5 trillion.

"One of the things that creates a problem as we're trying to get done is we depend on the Congressional Budget Office to give us a cost," Boozman explained later.

The Congressional Research Service projects 84% of the next farm bill's cost will relate to the bill's nutrition title, which includes programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

"These things can be pretty complex," Boozman said on getting a CBO score. "They're busy, there's a lot of complexity, and sometimes that can take weeks or months to get that back. You really can't move ahead with that particular item until you get an idea of the costs."

A shared concern of Boozman and Coons involves changes in agriculture and the country since the 2018 farm bill. Boozman has been vocal about adjusting risk-management tools for producers. The existing law uses numbers based on 2012 statistics, meaning farmers and other producers have received the same levels of financial help amid rising production costs and inflation.

"We're in a very different situation, even over the last couple of years," Boozman said, adding that Congress needs to get financial aid and income support amounts "up to par now."

Coons contextualized the matter by referencing how last year's outbreak of avian influenza affected Delaware's poultry and egg industries, causing price increases for products.

"We're talking about a minor modification to exactly how we provide some economic security to poultry growers who are hard hit not just directly by having an outbreak in their flock, but in a concentric ring around those flocks that are depopulated and shut down," he said.

When Boozman, Coons and other federal lawmakers return to the U.S. Capitol this week, the leading issue will be what steps to take to avoid a government shutdown after Saturday.

Boozman noted the shutdown debate dominating Capitol Hill is not affecting efforts related to a new farm bill.

To read the story in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette click here